Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fritz Haarmann: The Butcher of Hannover

Discovery and Confession

One of these victims was a boy named Robert Witzel, whose parents had continually besieged the police since their son's disappearance on April 26th 1924. When the first skulls were found later that year, Herr Witzel was persuaded to examine the evidence in order to confirm that his son's irregular jawbone was one of the discovered crania. All that was known at this time was that Robert had visited the local circus on the night of his disappearance with his best friend, the "sly and girlish Fritz Kahlmeyer." Fritz, silent throughout the entire ordeal, would only say that the boys had traveled to the circus with a "police official from the railway station." The reason for the boy's secretive nature was understandable; he too had been approached and sexually abused by Haarmann, who subsequently procured him for homosexual "society gentlemen." Items of Witzel's clothing were found in the killer's apartment, yet Haarmann would still not confess.

The breakthrough came when a couple walked into the police station and passed the Witzel family who sat outside the Chief Commissioner's office. Frau Witzel immediately recognized the man's jacket and asked as to where he had obtained the garment. The man admitted that he had acquired the coat from Haarmann and even provided an identification card in the trousers bearing the name 'Witzel'. The lady accompanying him was Frau Engel, Haarmann's landlady, who happened to be in the police station making enquiries concerning her tenant's military pension. An enormous stroke of luck in addition to the fabric evidence and, more importantly, one which finally convinced Haarmann to concede defeat.

The prisoner was consequently subjected to incessant and severe questioning, before being given relief and encouragement commensurate with the "unburdening of the conscience." After seven days of maniacal and emotional rages Haarmann broke down and asked for the superintendent and examining magistrate, to whom he would make a full confession.

The killer then took the court officials on a murder tour of Hannover. They were shown parts of corpses hidden in bushes, bones dredged from a lake and skeletons concealed around the city. Inevitably, more and more people stepped forward who had obtained clothing or meat from either Haarmann or Grans and the evidence snowballed.

Haarmann's character also changed during this period. He now opened up to the investigating authorities and displayed the helpful, childish and often sarcastic side to his nature. Only if confronted by the parents of his victims or if discussing the act of decapitation would the killer withdraw himself again. The general impression was that he felt relieved of a terrible burden by being able to discuss the darkness and fear of his abnormal sex-life. There was also a distinct degree of pride in having duped mankind, of whom Haarmann always spoke badly.

As a result of the information secured, Hans Grans was arrested on 8th July and the two men met on several occasions before their trials began. At these times, Haarmann was always troubled, where as Grans appeared indifferent to the entire affair. Haarmann remained in the prison until 16th August, before being sent to nearby Gottingen for psychiatric examination. The trial, unprecedented in German judicial history, contained 60 volumes of files and opened on 4th December 1924.

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